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” Growing up in Singapore in the 1990s, boys were commonly circumcised before puberty (around eight or nine) – making it seem like a rite of passage into adulthood.

Until the arrival of the British colonizers in the early nineteenth century, this area (which covers what is south Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and south Philippines today) shared many cultural and linguistic similarities.

When I was about six years old and attending a kenduri, or ritual feast, for two male cousins who had just been circumcised, I whispered to my mother, “Are girls circumcised too?

During my mother’s childhood, much mystery surrounded the practice, which was passed down the generations, quietly and without protest. In south Thailand, the bidan has the “exclusive authority to perform female circumcision and reject the idea of this operation ever passing into the hands of medical personnel” for physical and ritual/religious reasons.[xi] In Indonesia, traditional circumcisers say they “learn the practice from other women during several years of apprenticing.”[xii] Nevertheless, more and more doctors are performing FGC today.

Various reasons are offered for female circumcision, for example, to keep “clean”; to “purify the genitals and bestow gender identity”; to “control women’s sexual urges”; because women can only be beautiful if chaste; to help them not be “as wild”; to make them “more beautiful in the eyes of their husband”; or to make the latter “more excited in bed”.[xiii] In Singapore, some of the older generations point out that the reason that some young women are “wild” today is because they are not circumcised.

By the time my sister was born in the 1980s, it was more common to practice a symbolic form of sunat in the form of scraping of the prepuce using a penknife or scissors.

Both of these procedures had been done by a mak bidan, or post-partum midwife, whose role was to help mothers with bathing and nursing their babies, and also get back into shape after a natural birth with the use of tummy wraps, herbal drinks, herbal applications, massage, and bathing of the newborn baby.

The chapter details the history of the practice based on local reports dating from the colonial Dutch East Indies and contemporary sociological and anthropological research.[iii] There exists no convincing evidence that any form of FGC predated the spread of Islam to the region.

In fact,, Hindu and Buddhist beliefs prevailed in Southeast Asia before Islam and the followers of both faiths reject both male and female circumcision.

The royal families of Java also employed a non-Arabic word for FGC such as kres or tetesan (‘pricking’).

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